There can be a bit of confusion about what Pilates is and what it is not. I often hear, “isn’t it the same as yoga?” Um, no it’s not. Or better yet, “I tried Pilates before but I didn’t get a ‘good’ workout”. I believe these responses to Pilates occur because people honestly do not know what Pilates is or what it is intended to do for the body and the mind. It’s time to clear up the purpose of practicing Pilates. There is a very good article in the NY Times by journalist and author Danielle Friedman that does just that entitled “Is Pilates as Good as Everyone Says?”
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a mind/body practice that involves resistance training. It requires concentration and movement with precision. The point is to increase body awareness and to work towards mobility with stability. This is harder than it looks. For example, the Hundred is a foundational exercise in Pilates. It involves rhythmic breathing (inhaling for a 5 count and exhaling for a 5 count), vigorously pumping the arms and maintaining stability through your center/core. For some it takes a while to actually do this exercise proficiently due to poor body mechanics and limited knowledge of how the body is designed to move. This is why people are willing to pay extra money for personal training and private Pilates sessions. It makes a huge difference having a professional provide corrections, support and the appropriate modifications for your body.
So, what can Pilates do for you?
It can help you do whatever it is you do better! Want to have better posture at your desk…try Pilates. Want to improve your athletic game…try Pilates for cross training. Want to stand up from a seated position without holding on to something…Pilates can help. The list goes on and on. Why? Because Pilates helps to correct postural imbalances by focusing on movement from our center, our core. Anyone can do Pilates regardless of age, gender or current physical fitness level. Pilates meets you where you are.
What can’t Pilates do?
Traditional Pilates is not intended to be a cardio workout. There aren’t a lot of reps for each exercise and there’s no such thing as “leg day or arm day”. Every exercise is a full body exercise. Naturally, once you become more proficient in the Pilates method and start to move with increased tempo and flow your sessions become more cardio-like. However, it’s not the same as going for a long run. It’s also not the same as lifting heavy weights. Pilates doesn’t work the muscles to exhaustion. Most Pilates exercises are 3-5 reps.
How can you get started with Pilates?
I started with watching videos online (convenient) and then joining a group class (budget-friendly). However, it wasn’t until I started taking private lessons that I truly began to pay attention to what I was feeling in my body. I highly recommend taking at least three private lessons with a Pilates professional before joining a group class. This way not only will the name of the exercises be more familiar but you will also know what modifications are appropriate for you. There may even be some exercises that are not recommended for you. You have to do what is best for you!